Gerulaitis, ex-tennis star, dead at age 40

September 19, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- Vitas Gerulaitis, who rose from the public courts of Brooklyn and Queens to become the No. 3 men's tennis player in the world, was found dead yesterday at a friend's home in Southampton. He was 40.

The Southampton village police said that Gerulaitis' body was found shortly after 3 p.m. A preliminary medical examination indicated that he suffered a heart attack while sleeping, said his sister, Ruta. An autopsy was scheduled for today by the Suffolk County Medical Examiner's office.

Gerulaitis, a former Australian Open winner, played Wednesday in Seattle on the Champions Tour, a circuit for men's players 35 and over. He withdrew from the tournament the next day because of a bad back.

Gerulaitis, who left the main tour in 1985, worked last weekend for CBS on the U.S. Open as a studio analyst. He also played in the men's 35-and-over doubles event during the Open.

"Everybody in tennis knew Vitas as an outgoing and gregarious type. It's a real shock," said Association of Tennis Professionals spokesman Kevin O'Keefe.

Gerulaitis won the Australian, his only Grand Slam singles title, in and the men's doubles at Wimbledon in 1975 with Sandy Mayer.

He reached the No. 3 ranking in 1977, the year of what some considered his greatest match, an epic five-set semifinal loss to Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon. He was never out of the Top 10 from 1977 to 1983, and after a yearlong drop, climbed again to No. 4 in 1984, a year before his retirement.

A guitar player with long, curly blond hair and a penchant for the night life, Gerulaitis was as known for his conduct off the court as for his game. He was treated for substance abuse and he was implicated, though never charged, in a cocaine-dealing conspiracy in 1983.

He won 27 singles titles on the ATP Tour and almost $2.8 million in prize money. He reached the finals of the U.S. Open in 1979, losing to John McEnroe, and the 1980 French Open, where he lost to Borg.

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